Rob Sarvis has little money, no paid staff, and, by his own estimation, few fellow Libertarians among the Virginia electorate. Yet the irrepressible unpopularity of the leading candidates in the November 5 gubernatorial election—Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli—has allowed Sarvis, a 37-year-old Annandale attorney and software developer, to poll as high as the double digits. (The last Libertarian Virginian to run, Bill Redpath, didn’t clear 1 percent in the 2001 campaign.) We caught up with Sarvis to find out what makes him run.
At one point a Politico poll had you at 12 percent. For a third-party candidate to be in double digits says a lot about this election.
It shows the two parties have gotten so far from trying to serve the public. And these two candidates really exemplify exactly what’s going on in their parties.
What are your impressions of your opponents?
You can’t really tell much about a person from talking to them a little. They’re practiced politicians who say the scripted things you’re supposed to say, but the numbers don’t add up. It’s frustrating for voters to see such dumbed-down rhetoric.
What sparked you to run for office?
I grew up in a moderately fiscally conservative household. My mom is Chinese. My dad was white. He died when I was almost ten, and my mom raised us. I never heard anyone talk about social issues. I never really thought I would be in politics because I was really shy and introverted. But I’ve always been interested in public policy. In 2008, when the recession started, is when I got really fed up. I didn’t like that we had bailed out the big banks. It seemed there was a lot of cronyism.
Two years ago, you ran for Virginia’s state senate as a Republican.
I ran as a libertarian Republican. I just didn’t know how socially extreme the Virginia GOP is. There’s basically no libertarian influence—not like other states, where they’re kind of having a civil war.
Why did you quit the party?
I live in a fairly liberal district, and if I run again as a Republican, it’s just an albatross around my neck. It’s the easiest thing for them to say, “Hey, look—a Republican.” And that’s the end of the argument.
Where are you on the libertarian scale now?
I’m tempered by the fact of what’s politically feasible. Most Virginians aren’t libertarians. I accept that fact. I just start with the universe of politically feasible policy options and choose the best one.
If Virginians aren’t libertarians, why are you running?
Because they want something better, and moderate libertarian is far superior to Republicans and Democrats in their current incarnation. Take the marijuana issue. People see the ravages of the drug war and how ridiculous it is that we criminalize possession of marijuana. I think 70-plus percent [of Virginians] are totally fine with medical marijuana and a bare majority is okay with full legalization. Yet the parties aren’t talking about it, and the media generally won’t bring it up.
Can you pull this off?
Obviously, it’s still an uphill climb and we’re realistic about the possibilities, but there’s certainly a path there.
This article appears in the November 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.
About the only professional definition Hillary Clinton owns up to right now is “former Secretary of State.” She doesn’t talk of or even hint at the 2016 presidential race. But Washington is a city of political watchers and speculators, and Clinton gave them a lot of fodder this week. On Tuesday she made her first speech since leaving the cabinet, with an appearance at the 2013 Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards at the Kennedy Center. At the same time it was revealed that she will make her first paid speech on April 24 in Dallas to the National Multi Housing Council.
The Dallas appearance is interesting because on that same day, and in the same city, another “non-candidate,” former Florida governor Jeb Bush, is also making a speech—to the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth. The next day, Clinton and Bush will appear together at Southern Methodist University for the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, along with President Barack Obama and the former presidents Bush (W. and H.W.), Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter. In the realm of political speculation, a Clinton-Bush presidential contest is beguiling.